Donald Trump’s campaign continues to make up new rules for post-debate behavior. First, they were frantic to claim he won overwhelmingly, while the candidate himself spent time attacking the Venezuelan beauty-pageant winner whose treatment at his hands was the subject of a pretty effective volley by Hillary Clinton on Monday night. But now, Team Trump is looking ahead … with a strange survey of his supporters.
Framed as a “Debate Preparation Survey” in anticipation of the next debate, it asks 30 questions about what Trump did or should have done in the first debate. Eighteen of the 29 questions test out attack lines on Hillary Clinton. Mostly, they involve issues and pseudo-issues he failed to bring up in the first debate (“Should Trump attack Hillary for referring to tens of millions of American men and women as ‘deplorables’?” and “Should Trump have called out Hillary’s massive Wall Street fundraising and the paid speeches that she refuses to release to the public?”). There are proposed attacks on Clinton involving Obamacare, too, and her alleged hatred of coal miners.
There is approximately a zero percent chance that respondents to Trump’s survey will say “no” to any of these proposed attack lines. Had its designers offered “Hell yes!” or “Damn straight!” as options, they might have obtained some relatively useful information. As it is, the survey appears to represent an indirect apology for Trump’s failure to cover the anti-Clinton landscape the first time around, along with a permission slip for him to go medieval on his opponent at the next opportunity.
Another possible motive could be to set up expectations for what future moderators ought to be asking the candidates about, so that anything other than an inquisition of Hillary Clinton can be described as biased. That could be a bit tricky for the next debate, with a “town hall” format wherein all the questions will be posed by “real people” in the audience or online. Team Trump probably should not attack the American people or their representatives for failing to focus sufficiently on Benghazi.
The third debate, though, on October 19, will have an identical format to the first. The moderator will be Chris Wallace of Fox News, who presumably does understand why it’s important to ask Clinton why she wants to “enact more of Obama’s regulations that have stunted the economy and prevented small businesses from growing or even starting up[.]”
But Trump could be setting himself up for failure. If he again goes off into rambling tangents about his business record or his various grudges and again forgets to hit Clinton on all the terrible things she’s done, it won’t be because he got the wrong advice.